It snowed in New York City and you’re trying to push a stroller over icy, snow-crusted sidewalks. Some stretches are bare, but many are still unshoveled, especially at corner crossings.

Whose job is it to clear the way, and how can you spur some snow-removing action?

By and large, sidewalk shoveling is the responsibility of the neighboring property owner, whether it is a private residence or commercial building. Owners must clear at least a four-foot-wide path on the sidewalk adjacent to their property. And they have to remove snow and ice pretty quickly or risk fines.

According to 311 and the Department of Sanitation (DSNY), sidewalks must be cleared within four hours if snow falls between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. If it snows overnight between 9 p.m and 7 a.m., sidewalks have to be cleared by 11 a.m.

Critically, property owners who are adjacent to corner crossings, fire hydrants and bus stops also have to make sure those are cleared, too. (Bus shelters, however, are the purview of the city Department of Transportation. More on that below.)

DSNY spokesperson Joshua Goodman said in the two days since this week’s snowfall — the first measurable snow in New York City in two years — the agency has written more than 4,100 summonses.

Icicles hung on a metal railing in Manhattan.
Freezing temperatures descended on the Northeast while the city saw its first measurable snowfall in over two years, Jan. 16, 2024. Credit: Alex Krales/THE CITY

Not removing ice and snow isn’t just a hassle. It can be quite dangerous, especially for those with mobility challenges. According to the city Department of Health, falls among New Yorkers 65 and older are the leading cause of injury-related hospitalizations. Falls cause more than 17,000 hospitalizations of older adults every year in the city, and 7% of those falls took place on a street or highway, DOH stats show.

How to Report

If you’re steaming mad struggling to pull your shopping cart through a snow bank, look to the property next door. Chances are good that the owner there is responsible — and you could try asking for some snow-clearing directly if it’s a business or neighbor you know.

Or you can report the problem through 311 here or by calling (212) 639-9675. But make sure enough time has passed after a snowfall to be sure an owner is in violation of snow-clearing rules; your complaint may be tossed if the call comes in during the grace period.

Keep a record of the 311 complaint number. As discussed in THE CITY’s previous guide on who to yell at for local problems, 311 reports generate a tracking number useful to all levels of government. If you need to escalate the problem, it will help to have the complaint already on the record.

Public Spaces That Are Still Snowy

What if the snow hasn’t been cleared in a public spot, like a park, pedestrian median, or next to a school? Here’s how to deal with common snow problems in tricky spots:

  • Snow next to a subway station: Contact the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) here or by calling 511.
  • Snow in a bus shelter: Contact 311 here (scroll down to “Bus Stop Shelters”). The city Department of Transportation is responsible for hiring a contractor to remove the snow.
  • Snow next to a police building: Contact the NYPD or find the local precinct and give them a call directly. The community affairs division of the precinct or a Neighborhood Coordination Officer (NCO) are most likely to be able to help.
  • Snow in front of a school: 311 suggests reporting a problem at a public school using this form. If it is a private or charter school, the agency suggests contacting the school directly.
  • Snow in the paths of a city park: Report it here through 311.

A notable loophole in shoveling requirements are pedestrian medians and underpasses and overpasses, according to 311, DSNY cleans up these areas only after all streets have been cleared, and once it hires emergency snow laborers.

Service requests about medians and under- and overpasses may be filed only after 72 hours have passed following street-clearing. And according to 311, “there is no guarantee that every median will be cleared.” The same goes for underpasses and overpasses.

Unlike private, unshoveled spaces, public properties are not fined, according to Goodman of DSNY.

“While we do not write tickets to other City agencies, Commissioner [Jessica] Tisch has been clear that all property owners must clear snow and ice. That includes the City of New York. Complaints about city-owned property are routed to the appropriate agency for service with relentless follow up,” he said by email.

Chronic Snow Spots and Vacant Lots

If a spot in your neighborhood is never shoveled, and you’ve already called 311, you may need to do some snooping to figure out who is responsible. THE CITY’s guide on how to paw through property records like a reporter may help you find out who owns a place. Getting in touch with that person, however, can be tough, especially if the owner is an anonymous LLC or any entity that is non-responsive.

You can escalate the issue to your local community board or City Council person. Constituent services staff may be able to help track down who is dropping the ball, and how to reach them.

You could also reach out to the Department of Sanitation directly. The agency is responsible for issuing tickets. Fines to owners who don’t follow shoveling rules are $100 to $150 for the first offense, $150 to $350 for the second offense and at least $250 for the third offense and beyond.